Friday, June 30, 2006

Reasons not to preach tithing

In a follow-up to his earlier post on Revolutionary Generosity, Graham Old looks at the widow's mite in Mark 12 and reminds us once again that "tithing may be biblical, but it is not Christian."

Reflections on fellowship

As part of my own growth in discipleship, I'm trying to help learn and help the congregation with whom I minister learn what it means to be a Christian community. So I was glad when I took my weekly visit to CoffeeSwirls and found these reflections on fellowship from Doug McHone:
Once upon a time, the church was comprised by people of widely varying social, economic, racial and other backgrounds who came together united under the banner of Christ crucified. They held nothing as their own, but would sell their property to help anyone in need. They would use the word of God to exhort one another, discipline those who were in sin and build each other up in their shared goal of living lives acceptable to Christ as sacrifices of praise. They would understand such phrases as “common salvation” (Jude 3) in light of this. Because of this, I strongly doubt that their calls to repentance and faith included the phrase “personal relationship with Christ.” Is Christianity personal? To a degree it is. But we are saved from a sea of sinners into the invisible church, where the Bible assumes our lives to change from one of isolation to one characterized as the fellowship of believers. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
And what is the basis of that fellowship?
Fellowship is based not on sports, jobs, locality, pride or anything this world has to offer. It is based on the promise made to us by Christ, that He would raise us on the last day. It is this unbreakable tie that brings us into the fellowship and maintains our standing within it. (1 John 1:2-3).
Amen. Let's pray that our churches build true fellowship on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Does God need eyeglasses?

Jeff at Anti-Itch Meditation wonders if God has bad eyesight.

Eyes on the cross

Brad Huston's recent post on the Apostle Paul and the church today hits the mark with the force of a .44 magnum. A sample:
Paul did not have time to consider if the 'Arminian' was among the elect. He did not have the luxury of debating eschatology and ... how it could play out in the next five, ten or twenty years according to current events. Paul concerned himself with preaching the revelation of the Lord Jesus through his death and by his resurrection. Paul clung to Christ and preached Christ. Paul’s message was simple and focused: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." – 1 Corinthians 2:2

Paul kept everything completely tethered to Christ’s blood on the cross, and how Jesus had saved him. We see this even within the commands that he gave as to how we should live in Christ. He did this because Christ was his comfort, his refuge, his strength and his utter joy and his death he recognized and taught as the only means to God.

Paul is a lesson for the Eschatologist who is at war with his fellow brethren. He is instruction for the Theologian who thinks his views of election, predestination and atonement determines one's salvation. And Paul teaches us because the power of God by his Holy Spirit and the maturity of one in Christ comes only by the same means that the most 'basic' (what an inadequate word for such a great gift) rebirth in Christ comes about: the cross of Christ.

Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The allure of "Christian" idolatry

Gratitude and Hoopla has a powerful quote from Eugene Peterson on the "brisk market in Christian idols." If you dare to read it, prepare to have some of your own idols smashed.
Update: Team Swap adds further thoughts.

Comprehensive view of modesty in the church

Douglas Wilson has written an exceptionally comprehensive and well-reasoned appeal for femine modesty in the church (HT: SmartChristian). The essay goes beyond clothing to the heart of the matter of modesty and immodesty. Here's a sample:
We clearly have a need for reformation—doctrinal and practical infidelity on the part of God’s people is described throughout Scripture as adultery. And immodesty in Scripture is characterized as an invitation to adultery. So whenever a woman dresses in an immodest fashion, she is making a statement (although perhaps unintended) about the condition of the evangelical church today. Her statement is a public one—and not measured by what she says her intentions are—and that statement is I am easy. So the reason we have so much immodesty in Christian women today is that they are the Church in miniature. Too many women look cheap and easy because the Christian Church looks cheap and easy.

But we have to be careful not to fight with infidelity. Whenever a true problem appears in the Church, a natural response is for some to fight that problem "on God’s behalf," but the fight is offered according to the dictates of carnal wisdom. In other words, we fight with traditional values instead of with holy Scripture. And the reason we do not use Scripture is that God’s Word condemns more than just immodesty—it also condemns many of "our little virtues." But pietism always drags impiety after it. In short, we have to fight immodesty in a scriptural way, and not by means of Victorianism.
The essay, "An Apology for Christian Essay," reflects astute observation and clear thinking on a subject the church needs to be addressing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Protecting against depression

Preachers, here's one I strongly recommend: Jim Martin has written a candid essay on depression in ministry and ways to avoid it.

Unity in diversity of tongues

In an article about the importance of Bible translation, Eddie Arthur looks at translation in light of Jesus' prayer for Christian unity:
This call to unity is deeply profound. In a world where people naturally split into smaller and smaller groups which become hostile to one another, Christians are called to reflect the unity of the Trinity as a living declaration of the truth of Jesus’ message. Unfortunately, living in unity isn’t something that we are very good at. Clearly, there are times when it is important for Christians to take a stand against doctrinal error, but the capacity for believers to fragment into different camps around theological or cultural issues must cause pain to the one who prayed that we would be one.

Bible translation is one area in which Christians from different confessions can unite in order to advance the Gospel. The Scriptures are above our theological differences; there is no premillenial Bible as opposed to a post or amillenial one. The faithful translator strenuously avoids placing their personal slant or theological spin on their work - and where inevitable mistakes occur there is a rigorous checking procedure to ensure faithfulness to the original. If we are truly Christians, of whatever background, our concern must be to make God’s revealed word available to the millions of people around the world who still can’t read the book in their own language. Placing the Bible and God’s desire to communicate through it, above our own theological and cultural convictions is a liberating experience. It allows Christians who might never meet or who might, in other circumstances, be hostile to one another to work together towards a cause that is bigger than them and their secondary convictions.

Hat Tip: Better Bibles Blog

Monday, June 26, 2006

Hang on to your hats

At Faith and Theology, Kim Fabricius offers ten propositions on preaching.

The dangers of "instant discipleship"

Dan Edelen has written some particularly valuable thoughts on antiwitnesses to Christ:
Antiwitnesses are those poor souls who taste the goodness of Christ, but are never encouraged to grow deeper in Christ. They tend to comprehend just enough of the Gospel to be able to enunciate a few Christian truths, but they've ultimately been inoculated against any deeper life. They live exactly like the world—or worse—but continue to cling to some idea that they are real Christians.
And why are there so many antiwitnesses in North America?
At its core, Christianity is a relational, community faith. But as self-actualized Americans who have lived under the shadow of rugged individualism and bootstrapping, we tend to forget that discipleship is not handing someone a Bible and pointing them to a church with a hearty "Go get 'em, Tiger!" pat on the back. Many religions are like that, but Christ did not come to establish a loose affiliation of believing loners.

As Dan points out in his essay, building discipleship takes time, community, work, and love. There are no shortcuts to discipleship.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Overcoming our strengths

Yes, you read that right. The idea comes from Wes Haddaway, who writes at Leadership Journal on overcoming his own strengths in ministry:

As I have learned to rely on God in the areas of weakness, it has been a blessing to see God work despite my weaknesses, sometimes by doing so much more than I even hoped and prayed he would do. While I remain concerned about my weaknesses, it's my strengths that may be the undoing of my leadership.


Unction in preaching

Lee Eclov writes at Preaching Today on unction in preaching. Not entirely comfortable with that term? Neither was the author at one time:

I must admit that unction hasn't always had an altogether positive connotation for me. It is a word that somewhere in my past was hung like a sideshow banner over a sweaty, pulpit-pounder caught up in a frenzy of conviction. He is a preacher I resent—for not preparing well, for running on emotion and guilt, for crying too easily, for thinking there is something superior about being a primitive preacher. He gives unction a bad name: unctuous.

So what, then, is true unction?

I told a seasoned preacher friend I was thinking about unction. "It's hard to explain," he said, "but I know when I have it." I know what he means, but I'm not sure he's right. If he means, "I can feel unction when it comes upon me, when my words turn to hammers or lightning or medicine," well, I'm not sure we can always tell. Sometimes unction is simply received by faith, without feeling the wind or the heat. We go home to our Sunday afternoon nap deflated and disappointed that nothing seemed to happen. But when with a pure heart, a Christian preacher declares the Scriptures, or proclaims Christ, or calls for repentance and holiness, his words are surely anointed.

However you define "unction," it's admitting this truth: that the transformative power of preaching lies not in the preacher's personality, style, delivery, rhetoric or technique, but in the Word and Spirit of God.

Friday, June 23, 2006

New Bible study resources

Actually, they aren't new on the web, just to me. But I want to share a couple of good, free online resources I've recently discovered.

Davar is a downloadable Hebrew-English lexicon and language resource. The free, 6.57 MB program file includes "Hebrew-English dictionary, OnlineBible and Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicons, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, Aleppo Old Testament, King James version of the Holy Bible, Tyndall translation, Hebrew New Testament (Delitzsch) and Jewish Koren Old Testament." The interface is not immediately, intuitively obvious, but it looks like a very good resource and I'm in the process of learning to use it (HT: Better Bibles Blog).

Here's another jumping-off point for all kinds of online Biblical studies resources: Ferrell Jenkins's Biblical Studies Info Page. There's lots of treasure to dig through. Enjoy.

Ready to trash a bunch of your sermons?

Preachers, are you willing to admit that many of your sermons may need to be thrown out? Darryl Dash is doing an insightful blog series on theocentric preaching, and it's very good stuff (HT: SmartChristian). Here's a sampling from Darryl's Theocentric premise three:

My intent in preaching needs to honor the intent of the author - In other words, my sermon's purpose should line up somehow with the intent of the text.

So here's where a lot of sermons will get destroyed. Sorry to do this to you, but it's only fair since a lot of mine have been wrecked too.

Unless I think the intent of the author of Nehemiah was to teach leadership principles, then I need to question whether my sermons on leadership from Nehemiah really line up with the intent of the author. I probably need to throw most of them out.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Source of the sermon's power

Peter Bogert shares a recent experience reminding him of a basic lesson: It's the Spirit, not the preacher, who convicts the heart.

Strength in weakness

Bob of Gratitude and Hoopla reminds Christians of the need to "de-spectacularize":
Jesus says the Kingdom comes quietly, invisibly, spreading its influence like yeast in dough, but the corporate model of growth--bigger and bigger buildings, more TV networks--seems distinctly counter to that.
Kirk Wellum has written some timely reflections along similar lines:
Well, I wonder if 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 does not hold the key, even though I know it is dangerous to talk about "a key" to anything in the Christian life. It would seem from Paul's experience and mature reflection that power and strength are not tied to well-run organizations, or slick promotional material, or expository preaching, or finding the right songs to sing and structuring the worship service just so; although surely none of these things are wrong in and of themselves. Neither are power and strength tied to having the right version of the Bible, or view on divorce, or the role of women in the church; although once again all of these things are important in their own place. The experience of Christ's power is ironically tethered to weakness! It comes to us when we come to the end of ourselves and our resources

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Seeking God

"What matters most, in my estimation, is not that we do everything in our power to become seeker-sensitive. Instead, we should simply strive to be sensitive seekers."

No more pantheons

Dan Edelen warns of the dangers in creating a pantheon of Christian writers:
It bothers me sometimes that we treat great Christians as if they could never, ever, in a billion years have a mistaken position on an important piece of doctrine. The Godblogosphere is bristling with defenders of this great Christian or that, and God help anyone who questions that great Christian for even one second! People are so dogmatically in one corner massaging the shoulders of their Spurgeon, Tozer, Aquinas, or Merton and whispering into their man's ear, "Throw the uppercut this round!" that they're blind to their hero's own glass jaw.
In short, Dan sheds much-needed light on the relevance of 1 Cor. 3:1-11 today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"The Gospel, straight up"

At Gratitude and Hoopla, Bob reminds us that the celebratory side of worship and discipleship has a dark underside if overdone:
So you might think I’m suffering from a little happy-clappy overload, but that’s not really the problem. I can be as happy-clappy as anyone. But I have this nagging feeling that week after week we’re simply not hitting the mark, nor even aiming at the right target. Something is missing. A plain-spoken sense of our own inadequacy, and Christ’s all-sufficiency. The Gospel, straight up. My need, and God’s provision in the cross of Christ.
Thanks, Bob, for once again reminding us of the centrality of the cross.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Elephants in the living room

It looks like Jim Martin is on another one of his streaks of blog-post long balls. Recently Jim offered some enlightening thoughts on the "big pink elephant in the middle of the room."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Beating the happiness addiction

Jim Martin shares his experiences in learning not to care too much about what people think about his ministry performance. A sample:
What made matters worse was the air I was breathing. The air had become polluted by lots of people communicating in subtle and not so subtle ways that the point of ministry was happiness. Success seemed to be the happiness of people in these churches. Combine caring too much with too many people craving "happiness" and you have a combination that is deadly. Buying into this is a sure way to kill the effectiveness of any minister or any other Christ-follower.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Smashing idols

Ten cheers for Bob's brief, cut-to-the-chase post at Gratitude and Hoopla on ten things to quit worshipping.

The essence of the message

Bill Gnade writes some of the best blogging content on the web. He's just completed a four-part series, "The Problem of Knowing Good and Evil." In Part 3, Bill commented on the recent visit of Benedict XVI, a former Hitler youth and World-War II German soldier, to Auschwitz:
There is something essentially Christian about Benedict XVI standing within the gates of death. There is something essentially Christian about the very idea of redemption: St. Paul, the outstanding Jew who was a murderer, is the quintessence of the Christian message: all are saved who would be saved. God, as St. Paul says, takes the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; He is a God of gracious irony, proving that grace, love and mercy always trump the rules. My own earthly father taught me this: he taught me that he loved me more than he loved his rules, his reputation, his honor. I was more important than a statute, a commandment. The sheep is more important than the sheepfold; a hole in the fence did not mean that the fence was broken but that a sheep was lost, and in jeopardy. God cares for the lost, He pursues them; and He finds them in order to make them whole. This is what my father taught me, and it is essentially Christ's message to the world.
Amen. You may also be interested in reading Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Please pray for Doug Floyd

Fellow East Tennessean and writer Doug Floyd, author of Floydville, introduced me to blogging almost two years ago. This morning he will be undergoing kidney transplant surgery. The donor is Izaak Standridge, a young man in Doug's church. Please pray that both Doug and Izaak will come through the surgeries safely and well. Doug's brother, Jeremy Floyd, is blogging about Doug's and Izaak's status.

Update: Doug and Izaak came through the surgeries and are doing well so far. Doug's new kidney began working as soon as it was attached. Thank you all for your prayers, and thanks be to God for his answers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bible study resource: NT Hyper-concordance

Here's an interesting online resource, especially for those fond of the ESV: the New Testament Hyper-concordance (HT: Stronger Church).

Discipleship and community

Brad Hightower has posted some powerful observations on the mechanism of discipleship:
The mechanism of all discipleship is community. It is the community of believers and our relationships in the culture of the body of Christ through which the discipleship teachings of Jesus are delivered. The way of Jesus Christ is caught not taught. Or more precisely the mechanism for teaching is socialization in community. We learn by doing not by hearing. As we live together, we learn a new life and a new story of what it means to be truly human together.

If anyone has ever attempted to change some aspect of their character or has struggled with addictions, then you understand how difficult change is. Discipleship is about this level of dramatic change of our approach to life. Loving our enemies, not worrying about tomorrow, ceasing to lust after the world, living in love and fearlessness is a totally new way of life. I find that I personally need to be encouraged every day if I am to maintain such a spiritual perspective. It is absolutely impossible to change alone. Instead what we need is total immersion in a new culture.
So true. Growing in discipleship is perhaps the greatest blessing arising from regular attendance at corporate worship, Bible study, fellowship, and service. The principle works the same in politics, sports, academics, the arts, you name it: There's something to be said for simply hanging around with those in the community to begin thinking and living like a member of that community.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Improving our preaching

For solid, practical, detailed advice, read Dave Redick's top ten ways to improve your preaching this year (HT: Stronger Church).

Shaking the noise jones

Mark Loughridge, drawing on an earlier article by Mark Driscoll, confesses that he's one of many today addicted to noise:
Are we afraid of silence? What would happen if we had a moment or two of silence? It might be that we would actually start to think of the important and not just the urgent. Noise keeps us focused on the present – calls to answer, events that are happening. It keeps us focused largely on the trivial – how often is there something of life-changing importance discussed on the radio? Fairly infrequently.

It is in the silences of life that our mind is freed from the tyranny of the present and set free to plan for the future. But it isn’t silence in itself that is important – it is what we do with the silence. In Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Are we listening?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Benefits of expository preaching

Scott Hill writes in defense of expository preaching:
I grew up in the land of topical sermons that used the text as a starting point for soap box preaching, proof texting, and confirming inherited theologies. The purpose of expository preaching as I understand it is to make sure that the God-breathed text we are proclaiming is handled accurately, with as little of man’s opinion as possible. That way the Holy Spirit through the Bible is the one doing the convicting not man.
Hat Tip: Stronger Church.

"Don't accept the status quo"

Dan Edelen has finished his series on Unshackling the American Church with a diatribe against mammon:
Too many of us in the American Church can't see our hypocrisy. While Evangelicals rail against the secularized liberal elite that preaches a nonstop stream of dissolute sexual freedom, at the same time that same Christian Right has few hang-ups about unimpeded avarice deified. We certainly wouldn't champion being "pro-choice" when it comes to abortion, but try to take away our consumer choices (two hundred breakfast cereals, anyone?) and we'll holler just as loud as the pro-death leftists we say we oppose.

We of all people, the ones who fully understand the depths of human corruption, should be the folks casting a wary eye on economic systems run by fallen men. Yet we so easily fake blindness to unrestricted markets and the devastation they bring through the hands of unregenerate men and women. What does it say about us that all too often we're capitalists first and Christians second?
Dan is raising issues critical to faithful discipleship. Are we North American Christians listening?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Not going it alone

Philip Yancey has turned fifty, and he's been working on "a spiritual action plan for my next fifty years." Here's a sample:
Do not attempt this journey alone. Find companions who see you as a pilgrim, even a straggler, and not as a guide. Like many Protestants, I easily assume the posture of one person alone with God, a stance that more and more I see as unbiblical. The Old Testament tells the story of the people of God; Jesus' parables unveil the kingdom; the epistles went primarily to communities of faith. We have little guidance on how to live as a follower alone because God never intended it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bible study resource: The Sword Project

Here's a treasure I've found and want to share. The Sword Project is an excellent Bible study program available free for downloading. Add-on modules include a good variety of public domain Bible versions (such as the KJV, ASV, ISV, Bible in Basic English, and Westcott-Hort with NA27/UBS4 Greek text). Lots of good, public domain commentaries are also available, including notes from Barnes, Robertson, Scofield, and Wesley. Lexica and dictionaries (including Strong's) are also free. The interface is powerful and easy to use. If you haven't found a good Bible study program, I recommend you look at this one.

The Sword Project is actually one of several good free Bible software programs offered by those who seem to be more interested in encouraging Bible study than in making a buck. Others include the Online Bible and e-Sword (some e-Sword Bible translations require a fee but others, such as the ESV, do not).

Going beyond work-harder sermons

Here's a follow-up to Monday's post on the futility of sola bootstrapa. Bob at Gratitude and Hoopla has been writing this week about better alteratives to you-can-do-it sermons. This past Saturday, Bob looked at the NT concept of Kingdom rest. Monday, Bob took on "Christian to-do lists" and made this trenchant obervation:
We cannot transform ourselves. To try to do so is to find ourselves among "enemies of the cross." So it seems the message here is Christ-centered and cross-centered, not race-centered. In the final analysis, we cannot strain after perfection; it must be given us.
From reading Bob's blog I'm continually reminded of the need to keep the cross of Christ in view during preaching, praying, studying, and living in general. Bob posted another cross-centered essay today, "On Holding Fast and Drawing Near." Good stuff.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The miracle that kept the party rolling

This one is a refreshing drink of water on a hot day: Brian Colmery reminds us that Jesus began his ministry at a party:

Jesus went to a party. And his first miracle--ever--was done so that the party could keep going. Something about being enjoyable to be around, about learning to relax and have a good time and really enjoy life and people and God's working in all the things around us, is missing these days. We're too busy being busy to remember that God Himself put value on enjoying life. Take the serious things seriously, but never forget that you're not in control, and a lot of being faithful and obedient involves learning how to sit back and enjoy the ride God has you on.


Update: Dan McGowan offers some related thoughts at Common Saints.

Update 2: Mick Porter directed me to this sermon by Tim Keller on the same pericope.

The foolishness of sola boostrapa

Greg Johnson writes about the fallacy of boot-strap faith and the plague of quiet time guilt:
It’s ironic, but the Quiet Time has become the number one cause of defeat among Bible-believing Christians today. At one time or another, nearly every sincere believer feels a deep sense of failure and the accompanying feelings of guilt and shame because he or she has failed to set aside a separate time for Bible study and prayer. This condition is called Quiet Time Guilt. And it’s a condition with many repercussions. The shame of Quiet Time Guilt manifests itself in even deeper inability to fruitfully and joyfully study Scripture. Prayer becomes a dread; Bible study a burden. The Christian suffering from Quiet Time Guilt then despairs of seeing God work in his or her life, until finally he or she simply gives up. He may continue outward and public Christian commitments like church attendance, but secretly he feels a hypocrite.
The author goes on to talk about the causes of quiet time guilt and makes this assessment:
Your quiet time is not your relationship with God. Your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible.
The article is about grace-centered faith. It's good stuff and worth reading (HT: thebluefish).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Limited or unlimited atonement?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Preaching resource: NET Bible

It's been a year since the last series here about online resources for preaching, so it's again time to feature links to the best aids for biblical exposition and preaching. One of the resources I've been using lately in my own study is the NET Bible.

The NET Bible is a new English translation (thus, along with the online format, the NET appellation). While the translation itself may not be exceptional, the notes are an unusually good resource. The Bible is displayed in browser frames and is available for download free of charge. The NET Bible was designed under "ministry first" principles to allow the translation to be used without paying royalty fees. For a good evaluation of the translation, see this review by Michael Marlowe, who points out that "The marginal apparatus of the NET Bible is . . . of considerable value as a free internet resource for poor scholars who would otherwise have no convenient access to the kind of grammatical and text-critical information presented in it." Good maps are also available free for downloading.

Web pages describing hardcopy versions suffer somewhat from marketing-speak. But the online copy is strong, helpful, and free.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Choosing our methods and resisting the slide

Part of being transformed by the renewing of our minds involves learning to see the world around us as it truly is, and how that world influences beliefs and assumptions within the church. A couple of blog posts this week help shine that kind of light clearly on North American culture. Out of Ur, for example, reminds Christians that the methods we choose to convey the gospel have an influence in and of themselves:
The reality is, our methods are in no way “neutral,” they have a staggering, yet hidden power to shape us regardless of their content. This is what Marshall McLuhan meant when he observed “The medium is the message.” And it stands in direct contradiction to our evangelical rally cry. In other words, our media and methods have an inherent bias and a message of their own that has little or nothing to do with their content.
And at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan Edelen discusses the loss of community in North America and offers ways for the church to resist the slide.